Do NAPLAN writing scores simply reflect the real world?

Schools and students are being warned not to rely on the NAPLAN writing scores because the Year 9 students who sat their test online achieved writing scores that were up to 15 points higher than their peers who wrote out their responses with pen on paper.

The tenor of the coverage is largely about criticising the validity of the test and, again largely, focuses on the underlying hand-written test as the benchmark which reflects real ability. The gap in marks has been put down to several reasons but most people refer to the fact that students can edit their work. Welcome to 2018!

The gap has been put down to the greater confidence students feel when typing their responses, writing more, and being able to edit their work.

The capacity to write stuff down on paper at speed has only one context in which it is important – the HSC exam. Beyond that it is simply not an important skill. In the real World people use computers, they can edit as they go, they can rely on spell-checkers. Now the old school pedant in me deplores some of the outcomes of this reliance, but it’s foolish at best to think it’s not happening.

If students are getting better results when using the tools that they will be using for the rest of their lives – typing, editing, being able to revise – then that reflects their skill level in the most useful way. Would we judge a chef over his ability to cook over an open campfire. A doctor over her use of leeches? Of course we wouldn’t. So why judge students on their capacity to hand-write at speed?

There’s obviously a problem in having one test use two different approaches and then comparing the results. But perhaps the lesson to be learnt is not to go back to pen and paper but to focus on how quickly we can get all students tested in an environment that reflects the real World they live in.

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